GRAND RAPIDS — As Spectrum Health has cared for COVID-19 patients and prepares for a possible surge in the weeks ahead, the number of people coming into the ER at its hospitals with heart attack symptoms has fallen.
That concerns Dr. David Wohns, chief of cardiology at Spectrum Health Medical Group. He and others in health care worry that people who experience symptoms of a heart attack are avoiding going to the hospital or calling their physicians during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Cities with COVID among them have seen an up to 50 percent drop in heart attacks coming to the hospital,” Wohns said. “There’s no reason to think heart attack rates are going down. There’s nothing about this illness that would prompt heart attack rates to go down. So what’s happening? They’re staying home.”
Wohns cites a recent New York Times column by Harlan Krumholz, a professor of medicine at Yale University, about declines in patients going to the ER for a possible heart attack or stroke.
The American College of Emergency Physicians also voiced similar concerns last week.
“Despite concerns about the coronavirus, there is no reason to delay or avoid treatment if you think you’re having a medical emergency,” Dr. William Jaquis, president of ACEP, said in a statement. “Waiting too long to seek medical attention could make the difference between life and death.”
Spectrum Health has seen more people coming in with late complications of a heart attack, Wohns said. They had a heart attack a week or two before, “didn’t come in and then got really sick and came up with a complication related from a heart attack that had occurred for which they didn’t seek care,” he said.
Wohns suspects part of the reason for that is because some people are “fearful of coming to the hospital” during the pandemic, even for emergencies.
“We’re seeing patients understandably fearful. Nobody wants to be there, it’s hard to get there, there are all of the restrictions and that’s where the COVID patients are,” he said. “We’re starting to look at these statistics and it’s striking how late some people are coming in.”
COVID-19 does have some overlap in symptoms with a heart attack, such as shortness of breath, Wohns said. His obvious advice to anybody feeling symptoms is to seek medical attention and not to ignore them. If you believe you are having a heart attack, call 911, he said.
As well, people should not put off routine care for a medical condition because of the pandemic. In many cases, routine care can now occur over the phone or via a telehealth service, Wohns said.
“We are available,” Wohns said. “We do everything we can to protect patients coming to the hospital and to make that as safe a place as possible.”